When it comes to "Halloween music," Midnight Syndicate is the established name in the cemetery - and deservedly so - but there are other talented musicians doing admirable work. The oddly titled outfit known as "In A World" has been toiling this twilight land for only a few years, but with their series of Halloween CDs (My Halloween, Hallow's Eve Volumes I, II, and III), composer-performers Nicole Buetti and Dirk Montapert have established their own unique musical identity, recognizably in the spirit of the October season but also distinct enough from the competition to earn their own berth in the crypt. Their most recent release, 13 Nights of Halloween, is a change of pace, filled with spooky songs for "kids of all ages"; neophyte listeners looking for a more illustrative example of the group's work should turn to last year's release, Hallow's Eve, Volume III: Dead of Night, a collection of instrumental music and soundscapes that act as a soundtrack album for your unfilmed nightmares.
As with previous volumes of Hallow's Eve, the tracks on Volume III: Dead of Night are divided into two sections: Music and Atmospheres. The first are compositions; the second are sound collages. There may be one or two tracks in which the distinction is somewhat blurred, but for the most part the Music tracks function as enjoyable Halloween party music, while the Atmospheres work best as accompaniment to a terrifying tour through a haunted Halloween maze. (Rotten Apple 907 and the Knotts Berry Farm Halloween Haunt are among the attractions utilizing music cues from In A World.)
In the former category, the music gets its kick from the fact that it emphasizes acoustic instruments to a greater degree, achieving something closer to an orchestral sound than to the electronic synthesizer textures of Midnight Syndicate; also, the compositions trend a bit more toward the melodic, with a slightly Danny Elman-esque air about them. The result somewhat resembles film music - it splendidly evokes images in your mind as you listen with eyelids closed - but untied to the ebb and flow of a narrative, the music follows a more traditional strophic form, with melodies introduced, alternated, and repeated with the verse-chorus-verse structure of a song.
The Atmospheres offer fewer rewards for close listening. There is an occasional attempt to paint a scene through sound effects, but mostly the tracks mix squealing instrumental sounds with ambient noises intended to jangle the nerves rather than entertain the ears.
The track listings is:
- Paranoia: This brief, dramatic piece features a mournful horn playing over insistent strings (imagine the Headless Horseman riding across foggy moors, and you will get a sense of the flavor). The track acts as an effective prelude for what follows, a bit like an opening title theme for a motion picture.
- Widow's Mansion: a slow, sad, and eerie piece, with piano and strings. There are flashes of 1940s melodrama, follows by a wordless female vocal that evokes shivers down the spine. The album's longest track, this piece sustains itself beautifully, transcending the album's function as a would-be "soundtrack."
- Virus X: a more heavily rhythmic piece edging toward rock-and-roll with some electronics and a vaguely TERMINATOR feel.
- The Forgotten: begins with ambient textures before shifting to a dramatic crescendo.
- Premeditated: scratching string sounds, vaguely evocative of those Penderecki tracks used in THE EXORCIST and THE SHINING
- Zombie Puppet Parade: demented whimsy, sort of In A World's version of "Funeral March of the Marionettes."
- Halloween Masquerade Waltz: another moody piece, this one putting flute to good use; a nice combination of ominous and beautiful.
- Skull King: another rhythmic piece, this one featuring percussion and voices chanting "Voodoo!"
- Entity: more eerie piano, without the usual melody on top, instead relying on layering more textures as the piece proceeds.
- Dead-time Stories: more dementia but without the whimsy of "Zombie Puppet Parade" - what sounds like a children's chorus chanting "la-la-la!" in a manner thoroughly creepy.
- Savage Cannibals: as if "Skull King" were not enough, here is another attempt at using rhythmic percussion to suggest primitive danger.
- Death Dream: swelling musical sounds of the avante garde variety.
- Come Play With Us: a half-minute track with two voices basically doing the creepy twins from THE SHINING
- White Noise: pretty much what the name implies, with crescendos and abrupt volume changes for startling effect.
- Alien Abduction: a lengthy track (4:45) that begins with howling dogs and segues to stranger sounds, presumably as the victim (you) is taken inside a flying saucer and...?
- Shrieks of the Damned: not quite as literal as you might expect, with distorted sounds convey eternal torment rather than actual shrieking.
- Maggots: long slow and rather quiet piece, presumably of maggots feasting on...?
- Bayou: a nicely evocative bit with water sound effects and some strings and a briefly plucked banjo lending a DELIVERANCE vibe.
- From Beyond the Grave: a rather abstract piece suggesting spirits in limbo rather than resurrected corpses.
- Unrest: a 36-second creep-out that will probably make you uncomfortable if you listen through headphones with lights off after midnight.
- Witch's Lullaby: the album's only song features a child-like musical motif, twisted just enough to turn it into something ominous, overlaid with some wonderful lyrics that evoke childhood fears. It's spooky and a touch frightening while retaining the lullaby feel. A great ending for the album - one of the best tracks.
Overall, Hallow's Eve, Volume III: Dead of Night is another strong effort, but it falls a little shy of its immediate predecessor. There are fewer stand-out tracks that work as pure listening enjoyment (as opposed to background music), and some of the "Music" cues are not as far removed from the "Atmosphere" tracks as they perhaps should be. (If not for the tracking listing on the back of the CD cover, which identifies the cut-off point, you would be hard-pressed to guess that "Death Dream" and "Come Play with Us" are "Music."
As before, the Music cues display a nice variety, ranging from the melodic to the dramatic, with the orchestral-style arrangements sometimes augmented by electronic sounds, which energize some tracks, pushing them closer to rock music. The change of pace is welcome, even if nothing here quite matches the epic quality of "Mummy's Minions" on Volume II.